How Samson geared up for 'emotional' ODI century after Asia Cup, World Cup snub | Crickit
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How Sanju Samson geared up for 'emotional' ODI century vs SA after Asia Cup, World Cup snub

Dec 22, 2023 11:18 AM IST

Samson notched up a brilliant ton on Thursday, his first in 8 years of international cricket having made his debut in a T20I game against Zimbabwe back in 2015

It was probably going to be his last shot in international cricket. After been snubbed for the Asia Cup in September and the ODI World Cup at home in October, the non-selection for the T20I series against Australia and South Africa hinted that he may not be in the scheme of things for the T20 World Cup next June. His contemporaries had already left him far behind and the next generation of players were fast catching up. But with his back against the wall, Sanju Samson "broke the goddamn thing down".

India's Sanju Samson celebrates his century during the 3rd ODI match against South Africa of India's tour of South Africa, 2023-24 at Boland Park, Paarl(ICC Twitter)
India's Sanju Samson celebrates his century during the 3rd ODI match against South Africa of India's tour of South Africa, 2023-24 at Boland Park, Paarl(ICC Twitter)

On Thursday, after India huffed and puffed their way through the first innings in the ODI series decider at the Boland Park in Paarl, managing just 132 runs for the loss of three wickets in the first 30 overs, a well-set Samson took upon the responsibility. Changing gears, Samson scored 44 runs in the final 24 balls he faced as India amassed 141 runs in the last 14 overs to finish with 296 runs. And en route, the 29-year-old notched up a brilliant ton, his first in eight years of international cricket having made his debut in a T20I game against Zimbabwe back in 2015, and probably the first of many more to come.

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"Feels really emotional...very happy to achieve this," Samson said with a beaming smile at the mid-innings break as he looked back at the difficult past few months. "Have been putting in a lot of work physically and mentally, happy to see the results go my way now."

Luckless is the one word that can put together the last 24 months or more of Samson's career. He had earned immense praide from Rohit Sharma back in March 2022 with the India captain wanting a player like Samson, apt for Aussie conditions, in the T20 World Cup squad. But there weren't many opportunities that fell his way post the IPL season that year as Samson was snubbed.

The Kerala wicketkeeper-batter was once again in reckoning for a multi-nation event, for the Asia Cup earlier in September. He had even travelled with the team to Sri Lanka, albeit as an injury back-up for KL Rahul, but was eventually sent back home after the latter had recovered for the knockout stage. Samson was never called up and this missed out on the opportunity to make the ODI World Cup side.

“Play match-winning innings, play match-winning innings”. Samson had eventually figured it out what he needed to get a final shot at redeeming his international career. And that phrase is what he kept muttering through his practice sessions for the South Africa series, as recalled by his coach Bijumon N in a chat with Indian Express.

Following his World Cup heartbreak, Samson went back to his hometown Thiruvananthapuram to work with his personal coach and re-work on his batting skill.

“He was not worrying about things that were not in his control. He only believed in the process that he was going through,” Bijumon told the national daily adding that he had overcome the feeling of missing out the World Cup squad quickly.

Post the pore-season preparations at home, Bijumon travelled with Samson to the Kerala team camp in Alappuzha, then to Mumbai for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and to Bengaluru as well for the Vaijay Hazare Trophy. But their focus remained entirely on the ODI series.

“We were specifically preparing for the South Africa tour in Bengaluru. We got a nice wicket at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), where we could replicate the South African conditions,” said Bijumon. “Sanju knew South Africa would be challenging. There would be lateral movement throughout and good bounce. The conditions would be different from what we get at the domestic level in India. So, there was that concerted effort to fine-tune certain aspects of his game to adapt to those conditions. Also, he was getting into this mental makeup to play longer innings that can take the team to wins."

The talk around India's win on Thursday may be centered around Samson's century, but it surely doesn't gurantee him a place in the T20 World Cup scheme of things, given the intense competition for each spot in the Indian team, and Bijumon realises that.

“This should be a springboard for more such knocks. I think Sanju has now turned a corner in his career, and the best years of his career are ahead of him,” he said.

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